On 21 May, the former president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Han Sang-gyun was released from prison.
Brother Han served two years, five months and 12 days of a five-year sentence on charges related to protesting the corruption of the government of former President Park Geun-hye. Former KCTU general secretary Sister Lee Young-Joo remains in prison.
Brother Han was sentenced to five years in prison after being falsely accused of “leading a violent protest” for his part in organizing a mass mobilization of 130,000 people against the Park government in November 2015. This mass mobilization sparked a series of large protests culminating in the candlelight vigil movement and a demonstration by one million people a year later, on 12 November 2016, where IndustriALL was represented by general secretary Valter Sanches. The mobilization led to the impeachment, removal from power and imprisonment of President Park.
On several occasions the leadership of IndustriALL visited brother Han in prison and reaffirmed its commitment of solidarity.
Brother Han was warmly welcomed outside the prison by his mother and KTCU comrades. Flowers and messages of support were received from around the world, and a letter from IndustriALL was read out.
Thanking the international labour movement for its solidarity, KMWU president Kim Ho-gyu said:
“We extend our deepest gratitude to all of you, who have shone the light of international society upon his case through solidarity actions and visits, reminding the South Korean government that the world has not forgotten our imprisoned trade union leaders.
“The spotlight you shone on Han led many in the world to know what it is to be elected a trade union leader in South Korea, and it is extremely moving for the imprisoned to receive your solidarity; however, besides Han there are still many prisoners of conscience in prisons in South Korea.”
IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches recalled taking action with Brother Han in 2009 against Ssangyong, and sent a message to the KCTU, saying:
“We have a long history of struggle together. We will keep fighting until Sister Lee and all the other trade unionists are free from jail.
“The solidarity that we mobilized on behalf of the Korean people to put down the anti-union Park Geun-hye government will continue until we get everyone free from prison.”
Brother Han is a member of IndustriALL affiliate the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU). He was originally an autoworker who led a major strike at Ssangyong Motor during the global crisis in 2009, as well as a movement against mass dismissals and precarious work afterwards.
Han was later elected president of the KCTU. He built a coalition with social forces and led a massive struggle against the regressive labour laws introduced by the Park government in collusion with large corporations, as well as resisting the closure of democratic space.
Although the new government of President Moon calls itself a “government of candlelight” and has promised to respect the labour movement, the KTCU remains concerned that Sister Lee, as well as other trade unionists and prisoners of conscience, remain in jail.
The international trade union movement joins the 800,000 members of the KTCU in warmly welcoming Brother Han back to a world which has been changed by the candlelight movement he sparked.